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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Interview With Vera Hamill

Aired May 2, 2004 - 08:19   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to turn our attention now back to our top story of the day. The escape of an American prisoner Thomas Hamill. Joining us now on the phone is retired Air Force General George Harrison.
Good morning, General. Thanks for being with us.

GEN. GEORGE HARRISON (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: Good morning, Erica. How are you doing?

HILL: I'm doing very well; probably not nearly as well as the family of Thomas Hamill is doing. The 43-year-old contractor escaped this morning, we're being told -- we have been told that he is in good health per Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. Were you surprised to hear that he was found alive?

HARRISON: No. As a matter of fact, a dead hostage is certainly of no value to anybody that's trying to negotiate anything like this. Keeping him alive meant that whoever, whatever faction had captured him had a little bit of leverage and had the ability to try to influence events. Whereas, having taken him and moved him out of the area, killing him simply meant that it was an act of terror, rather than an act to gain leverage.

HILL: You mention leverage and things that the captors may have wanted. One of the things the captors mentioned when we knew that they had Thomas Hamill is they wanted coalition forces, U.S. troops out of Fallujah. Now, there was a transfer of power, Iraqi forces now taking over control in Fallujah. Are you drawing any connection between the two, between Mr. Hamill escaping and what's going on in Fallujah?

HARRISON: Well, it's a little tenuous to -- or a little preliminary to make an assumption or draw a conclusion. But certainly it may have disrupted his captors' plans and disrupted their security arrangements. Changed their focus and attention away from what was going on, so that he had the opportunity to escape. But I think ultimately, we'll find that the way he escaped was to use his initiative, take and seize an opportunity, and get moving when the opportunity was there.

HILL: He is -- speaking with U.S. military forces. Any idea what they may be asking him what they may be trying to find out? Obviously they want to know who his captors were, how he got to Tikrit from just outside Baghdad. But what are some other things that they would be asking him? HARRISON: Oh, they'd be interested certainly in the kind of equipment his captors had, how did they treat him were, what was there -- were there any demands on him personally, did they ask him any particular kinds of information? They'll essentially be trying to find out about his captors, how organized they are, what kinds of things they might able to glean from their capability, what their plans might be.

HILL: A really an incredible story. We appreciate your insight on it General Harrison. Thanks again for being with us.

HARRISON: Sure. Good to be with you.

HILL: General George Harrison, retired from the Air Force.

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: And we will have more on the Hamill situation all through the morning. So please stay tuned to CNN SUNDAY MORNING. We're back with more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAN MIGUEL: Taking another look at our top stories.

Thomas Hamill is a free man this morning. The American truck driver kidnapped in Iraq last month has been found by troops. U.S. military officials say that Hamill appears to be in good shape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIMMITT: He came out of a building, identified himself to American soldiers. It looked like it was an escape. This is a preliminary report that we have indicates he escaped from the building. When he saw the American forces, identified himself and was sub subsequently recovered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAN MIGUEL: Hamill was found at about 100 miles from where he was taken prisoner.

HILL: And we turn our attention now to a woman who knows Thomas Hamill well. His grandmother, Vera Hamill joins us now on the phone.

We'd like to thank you for being with us this morning.

VERA HAMILL, GRANDMOTHER: Thank you.

HILL: What incredible news for you. When did you first get the news and what was your reaction?

V. HAMILL: Well, I was in the bed, my daughter Colleen called me and told me that Kelli, his wife, called her and told the good news that she had -- they had contacted her and said to call "Momo." And he calls me Momo and Colleen told me and I was -- she said we just praising the Lord. I says I got up out of the bed just praising the Lord. And I thank Him with all my heart. I felt like he was going to be safe.

HILL: And that feeling, obviously, answered this morning. You feeling like he was going to be safe. Have you had a chance to speak with Kellie Hamill, your grandson's wife?

V. HAMILL: Yes, look. Kellie, she has so many calls and she's just had heart surgery and I just was going to wait a while before I say anything to her. And she's going to church.

HILL: Mm-hmm.

V. HAMILL: And I don't go to church much because I got arthritis so bad and I'd have to go in a wheelchair.

HILL: Mm-hmm.

V. HAMILL: And I just look at the preachers on TV.

HILL: Well, I'm sure your phone will be ringing off the hook as well, as well, Mrs. Hamill. A very busy...

V. HAMILL: Oh, yes, it's ringing.

HILL: ... morning for you. Tell us have you thought about what you'll say to your grandson when you see him?

V. HAMILL: I'll just say well, thank the Lord, you had trust in the Lord. And praising by trusting God.

HILL: Do you have any questions for your grandson, anything that you would like to know about what it's been like these past few weeks for him?

V. HAMILL: Yes, I would like to know did he have a very hard time while he was captive. I know he looked brave on TV. But I didn't know for sure.

HILL: What was he like as a child? Give us an idea of what Thomas Hamill was like growing up? Was he a brave child?

V. HAMILL: Well, he was just like any ordinary boy. He was just a real good boy. He never gave us any trouble. He, of course, was a boy. All teenagers. And that's -- he's always been a real good boy.

HILL: What did he say to you when he knew that he was going to be going into Iraq as a contractor? I imagine you must have had some interesting feelings about that? And what was his reaction? What did he tell you? How did he feel about it?

V. HAMILL: Well, he seemed like he was mighty brave. He said Momo, don't worry about me, God's going to take care of me. I said I know it hon. You just keep that faith up and trust in the Lord.

SAN MIGUEL: Ms. Hamill, this Renay San Miguel anchoring with Erica Hill this morning. You talk about your faith an awful lot. I mean has that helped you get through and the family get through these very difficult few weeks? .

V. HAMILL: It sure has me. It's certainly been good. I had a peace in my heart that God was going to bring him home.

SAN MIGUEL: Do you recall the last time that you spoke with Thomas that you knew he was going to be on his way to Iraq, as part of his job and what you were thinking at that time?

V. HAMILL: Well, he came by that morning he left to see me. And I told him, I said Hon, just keeping on and read your bible. And you trust in the Lord and you'll be all right. And he said, Momo, don't worry about me. God is going to take care of me.

HILL: Mrs. Hamill, earlier this morning, Kellie, your grandson's wife gave an interview to a radio station and we'd love to share with you what she had to say, if you you'll please take a listen with us.

V. HAMILL: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLIE HAMILL, WIFE: I can't help, but I've got to go pray. I'm so thankful. I feel wonderful, it's the best feeling I've had. I am so ecstatic. And I just want to thank everybody that has prayed and sent their prayers to us. Thank you all so very much. I've talked to the company. That's what I'm trying to do, is keep the lines open so I can talk to him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAN MIGUEL: Ms. Hamill, that was Kellie, Thomas' wife. And you said that the phone has been ringing off the hook or has been busy, so I am not sure you had a chance to talk with her, but judging from her voice and what she said, I mean, you know, was this what you had been expecting?

V. HAMILL: Yeah, I knew she had faith and I knew she was -- and we just prayed (UNINTELLIGIBLE) praying for him.

SAN MIGUEL: And are you near to the family there? Everybody around there in Macon? I mean, I can imagine that there's big plans to get together here and everybody is trying to contact everybody on a morning like this, but...

V. HAMILL: Right, yes, mine has been ringing off for everybody. But I tried to tell them what I can, but you know, you see a lot on TV.

HILL: It must have been a tough time as well, not only for you and for Mrs. Hamill, but also for their two children. Your grandson has two children, I believe.

V. HAMILL: Yes, they...

HILL: How have they been doing in the past few weeks? V. HAMILL: They just are fine. Of course, they were kind of worried about their daddy and all, but they kind of went on back to school, so they could get their mind off of it.

SAN MIGUEL: Ms. Hamill, we want to replay for you the announcement, the very happy announcement that came this morning from the coalition, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt that came -- it was about just before -- or it was around 7:00 this morning Eastern time. Let's replay that for you right now and then we'll get your thoughts.

V. HAMILL: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: Today at 10:20 hours, Mr. Tommy Hamill, an employee of Kellogg, Brown & Root was recovered by U.S. forces south of Tikrit. He is in good health. He was reported missing after his convoy was ambushed on 9 April.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAN MIGUEL: Ms. Hamill, were you watching -- were you watching the news at that time and then when you'd heard that, what was going through your mind?

V. HAMILL: No, I was in bed. And my daughter called me and told me that Kellie, his wife, had gotten news and she called her. And then she said to call me. And my daughter called me. And I got up, praising the Lord. And I looked on TV, I called my other daughter in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Columbus, Mississippi, and she says, it's on the TV. Says, just look on the TV. She had already seen it.

SAN MIGUEL: And the announcement had already been made. And I'm wondering if watching TV has been tough for you these past few weeks, obviously, but how difficult it's been to know that your grandson was out there, still unaccounted for. The last thing that you had seen from him on the TV were the images of him in the custody of his captors, these people with black masks and guns. And just wondering, you know, if you were dreading watching the TV at any time during the last few weeks?

V. HAMILL: It did look bad, but I still had faith that God would take care of him. I just prayed all the time he would, and I know he would. And I just had faith. And so thankful he did.

SAN MIGUEL: So, I mean, we're obviously, you know, we keep talking about faith and things like this. Do you get together regularly for Sunday services with your family? I'm not sure what your faith is, but I mean, is this something that you do every week? And I guess today obviously would be a lot more to be thankful for.

V. HAMILL: Well, I always went to church, but I've got where I have arthritis so bad, I can't get about. When 92 year old, but I look at the preachers on TV and I read my Bible and I pray. And I just trust God at home.

SAN MIGUEL: Well, your trust was definitely paid off today.

V. HAMILL: And all my friends. They come in and they call me and all. And we all kind of seem like one family.

SAN MIGUEL: Well, we have a feeling that your house is about to get very, very busy there, Ms. Hamill. We want you to hang to the line for just a second. We want to bring back our CNN military analyst, General Harrison.

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